By CHRIS McGOWAN
Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida. (Image courtesy of Universal Studios Florida.)
Not so long ago, in a galaxy not so far away, the first guests entered the Star Wars universe with the help of motion simulation and a first-person-perspective film created by George Lucas, Dennis Muren, VES and Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). Star Tours debuted in 1987 at Disneyland and was a groundbreaking ancestor of recent theme park attractions like Avatar: Flight of Passage, King Kong 360 3-D and Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure, rides that incorporate ultra-high frame-rate, ultra-high-resolution digital imagery, motion simulation and/or sensory stimuli. Such attractions place guests in the middle of the narrative, usually one based on a film franchise. It is an evolving form of entertainment – a generally short and intense storytelling mode – that offers media companies an additional way to leverage IP as well as create original content. This hybrid form is bringing VFX artists and theme park specialists together in ever-increasing numbers to provide visual effects and storytelling for attractions as well as the ride queues leading up to them.
Theme park designers have realized that “flat rides” need to adapt to today’s audiences, which generally have a short attention span and are interested in more immersive fare. Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) and Lightstorm Entertainment (co-founded by James Cameron) teamed with Weta Digital to create Avatar: Flight of Passage for Disney’s Animal Kingdom; Universal Creative worked with Weta on King Kong 360 3-D for Universal Studios Hollywood; WDI collaborated with ILM on Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure for Shanghai Disneyland Park; and Sally Corporation worked with Pure Imagination Studios on numerous Justice League: Battle for Metropolis rides for multiple Six Flags parks.